A curmudgeon's Rugby World Cup diary: Week two

1:49 pm on 24 July 2019

Opinion - Welcome to the world of football friendlies.

Replacement All Black's flanker Ardie Savea

Ardie Savea celebrates scoring a try against South Africa in last year's Rugby Championship. Photo: © Copyright Photosport Ltd 2018 www.photosport.nz

Yes, we've all looked on from a distance thinking what a waste of time international football is, outside of peak events such as the world cup and European championships.

Well, now we've got these Mickey Mouse games in rugby too. Terrific.

Taken for a ride

Man, I feel a fool. Imagine buying four tickets for this Saturday's All Blacks vs Springboks match at Westpac Stadium. What a waste of money.

It's only the knockout games of the Rugby World Cup that count in 2019, with every other match a con or a tune up or a trial, depending on your point of view.

A makeshift New Zealand team beat Argentina 20-16 in Buenos Aires on Sunday morning. Many people will have watched the game after the fact, fast forwarding through the boring bits (of which there were several).

The only real interest was in who might have played their way in or out of the world cup squad.

We've watched the Super Rugby season sacrificed in the name of All Blacks' success, with guys sitting games out or being sent to the sideline once a threshold of allowable minutes had been reached.

Now the national team are finally playing, only with half the side sat at home in New Zealand to freshen up.

Which reminds me, I need to find yet more extra cash so I can actually watch the world cup. Maybe at that point the All Blacks will make 2019 worth our while.

As for the footy

It's been said before, but the trip from New Zealand to Argentina is a hard one.

Players really struggle to sleep after arriving in Buenos Aires. World Anti-Doping Agency rules prohibit what can be taken to help that, so typically guys lie wide awake most of the night.

Motor skills suffer the most in that situation, making for some pretty ordinary training sessions. The hope is that guys will be right come Saturday, but dropped passes can still be common sight on game day.

So it was against the Pumas, with several balls hitting the deck. Had more passes stuck, then the All Blacks might've won by a lot more.

The Pumas, led by a large contingent of Jaguares, were combative, but pretty limited in the quality of footy they produced.

For the All Blacks, Beauden Barrett was very good at first five-eighth, while second five-eighth Ngani Laumape, wing Sevu Reece and tighthead prop Angus Ta'avao didn't do their world cup selection hopes any harm.

The debutants

Overloading is an occupational hazard as a new All Black.

Information, gear, training and food are all thrown at them in huge quantities and, once the euphoria wears off, it can be hard to handle the enormity of it all.

Sevu Reece on debut for the All Blacks against Argentina in Buenos Aires.

Sevu Reece on debut for the All Blacks against Argentina in Buenos Aires. Photo: Photosport

Guys who think they're in good nick are soon told they need to be heavier, stronger and faster to cut it as an All Black, never mind all the new moves and calls they're having to learn.

Reece, utility back Braydon Ennor, flanker Luke Jacobson and prop Atu Moli all got some minutes against Argentina, with Reece given the greatest opportunity to shine.

The challenge for them now is to absorb everything and then adjust to the challenge of getting up every week. It's easy to shine once or twice, but the scrutiny and expectation can begin to weigh heavily and you don't imagine too many rookies will eventually end up in the world cup squad of 31.

To Wellington, then

Ideally Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Sonny Bill Williams, Jack Goodhue, Rieko Ioane, TJ Perenara, Richie Mo'unga, Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks will all come into the 23 or starting XV this week.

One spot in the back-three still looks open, with Jordie Barrett not in career-best form. Coach Steve Hansen will be wanting to give Williams and Goodhue a go in midfield and there must be great disappointment that the injured Scott Barrett can't be tried at blindside flanker.

Despite being a lock, Barrett almost looks the best option at 6. Shannon Frizell's floating about and then there are Dalton Papalii, Jacobson and Vaea Fifita.

Fifita didn't have his best game in Buenos Aires but, given the proximity of the world cup, incumbency might prove his biggest ally.

All Black Sonny Bill Williams warms up during an All Blacks training session at the Hutt Rec grounds in Lower Hutt.

All Black Sonny Bill Williams is due to make his long-awaited return against the Springboks this weekend. Photo: Photosport

The Springboks

They looked very good in beating Australia 35-17 in Johannesburg.

The Springboks also had a second-string line-up, with the margin of victory saying plenty about how poor the Wallabies are. Still, when you talk about world cup contenders, South Africa are right up there and will come to Wellington having won there in thrilling circumstances a year ago.

This Saturday's clash really could go either way.

The Wallabies

Seldom have Australia been as bad as this.

Their starting backline was abysmal and miles from what we've come to expect and admire from Wallabies' sides.

Some absolute nonsense has been spoken about Taniela Tupou's yellow card at Ellis Park, but the fact is it was deserved. It was the replacement prop's third such cheap shot since coming on and he was being pummeled and penalised at scrum time and, desperate to make a positive impact, he did a dim thing.

Sadly, that's typical of his footy and won't be the last time it happens.

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